After a few dominating performances by the Boston Bruins
and mystifying efforts by the Vancouver Canucks
at TD Garden, the Stanley Cup Final has returned to Rogers Arena for Game 5 Friday night.
It's a best-of-three now, and the Canucks have home-ice advantage. They need it.
Vancouver is 9-3 with five straight wins at home in the 2011 postseason. The Bruins are 5-5 with four straight losses on the road. However, this is the first time Vancouver is in a dead-heat after four games, while Boston has been in this position twice already and won Game 5 both times.
The first four games of the Final have already provided the theatrics and controversy befitting a series that went the distance. The speculation now is that the Bruins are in control and the Canucks are on the ropes, but Vancouver can change all that with a solid 60 minutes on its home ice Friday night.
Here are six questions to ponder before they get that chance:
1. Can Roberto Luongo close his holes?
We asked a variation of this question heading into Wednesday night's game and gave the answer that yes, Luongo is capable of rebounding from one of the worst performances of his career to be a positive factor in Game 4.
Luongo gave up half the amount of goals in Game 4 (four) that he allowed in Game 3 (eight), but he was maybe just as bad and this time he got the hook from coach Alain Vigneault
. He was beaten through his five-hole, on his catching glove side, on a deflection and off a turnover.
It wasn't totally his fault, but for two games Luongo hasn't come up with a save to save his team. He can in Game 5 as long as he remembers who he is and why he's here.
Luongo has had four bad games in the playoffs, two in a row in the Chicago series and these last two against the Bruins. He recovered and became one of the most important factors in the Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup Final. He has not put together three bad performances in a row since mid-October.
2. Will they play like Henrik and Daniel, or Thelma and Louise?
Commenting between periods for Versus on Wednesday night, ex-Bruin Mike Milbury
referred to the Sedin twins as Thelma and Louise. It was quite the potshot by Milbury, but nothing that's exactly new because calling out the Sedins in this Stanley Cup Final has become popular for a good reason.
The twins aren't doing anything except getting beaten up by the Bruins' defense pair of Zdeno Chara
and Dennis Seidenberg
Daniel had 2 points in Game 2, but nothing in the three other games. Henrik has been held off the score sheet entirely. It's the second time in the playoffs he's gone four straight games without a point, which is something that never happened in the regular season.
Vancouver is not going to win this series without the twins producing, especially when it's getting zippo out of everyone else, too. Henrik and Daniel are the guys that have to get it done, lead the way so everyone else follows.
They can't continue to get pounded by the Bruins. They have to make analysts like Milbury eat their words.
3. Does the power get restored at Rogers Arena?
Somewhere along the line the Bruins must have given their notes on how to make a power play go bad over to the Canucks and threatened that if they don't use them, then bad, bad things would happen.
Vancouver's power play has been flat-out atrocious in this series, so much so that the Bruins are actually the team generating momentum when the Canucks have a man-advantage.
How bad has it been? Well, we're talking 1-for-22 in the series, including 0-for-14 with two shorthanded goals allowed in Boston bad.
The Canucks are stationary in the zone and their passes aren't crisp. Nobody is trying backdoor cuts and Ryan Kesler
is getting outmuscled in front of the net. Heck, the Canucks can't even get the puck to the net. They had only four shots over six power plays in Game 4 after getting 12 mostly outside shots on goal over eight power plays in Game 3.
They shouldn't be this out of whack on the power play, not with the Sedins, Kesler, Alexander Edler
and Christian Ehrhoff
on the top unit as well as Alexandre Burrows
, Chris Higgins
, Mason Raymond
, Kevin Bieksa
and Sami Salo
on the second unit.
Vancouver was 9-for-24 on the power play against San Jose. It has to click again.
4. Can Claude Julien find the matchups he wants?
Vancouver has the scoring champions from the past two regular seasons on the same line, and they've combined for two points in four games in this series. A big reason for the Sedins' lack of success is the five-man unit Julien has tried to deploy against them as much as he can. Center Patrice Bergeron
is a top defensive forward, and the defense pair of Zdeno Chara
and Dennis Seidenberg
has played as well against them as Nashville's dynamic duo of Shea Weber
and Ryan Suter
Julien had the last change in Boston so he could put those guys out against the Sedins whenever he wanted. Now that the series is back in Vancouver, he has to be a little more creative, whether it is making changes on the fly or having faith in others to help out with the job.
"It's not a concern," Julien said. "We've had to do that all year long when we've had to play teams that have those kinds of players, we need the matchups, we work it out. Definitely it's easier at home when you have that last change, you know who they're putting out there. We manage to work it out on the road. It's not always the perfect fit, but eventually we do get what we want."
5. Could overconfidence be an issue?
In the days leading up to this series, and especially after the Canucks took the first two games, the Bruins were able to play the underdog card and relieve some of the pressure that comes with playing in the Stanley Cup Final. They were also able to rally around the idea that people didn't believe they could beat the mighty Canucks.
Now Boston has spanked Vancouver in back-to-back contests. The Canucks have scored five goals in four games -- the Bruins had eight in Game 3. While the Canucks still have home-ice advantage, the Bruins have looked the far better team in the past two contests -- and lost the first two in the final minute of regulation and first minute of overtime.
Boston shouldn't be lacking for confidence in Game 5, but too much of it might be just what Vancouver needs to regain the high ground in this series.
"I think we've learnt throughout the course of the season that we don't take anything for granted," Julien said. "So I think our team has responded well in regards to that. I've always been one of those coaches that feels this is a very humbling game. If you're not careful and you think the other way, it can certainly be brought back down to earth pretty quickly."
6. Can Boston win in Rogers Arena?
While the Bruins did blast the Canucks in Games 3 and 4, one thing about their fate did not change -- if Boston does not win at Rogers Arena, the Stanley Cup parade will be on Granville Street and no duck boats will be involved. People tend to dismiss home-ice advantage when upsets happen in the early rounds, but home teams win a lot in the Cup Final, and especially recently.
The Canucks earned the right to have four home games in this series by accumulating the best record in the NHL. Part of that was being a fantastic team at Rogers Arena and defending their home turf. Vancouver can lay another egg in Game 6 at TD Garden and it won't matter, provided the Canucks hold serve at home.
The Bruins have done a great job of preventing their foes from carrying momentum into the next game after a tough loss, but they also have struggled at times to do the same. If Boston can get to Luongo early in Game 5, Bruins fans might be able to see a big celebration in their near futures. Luongo was solid in the first two games of this series. How much of the team's -- and his -- struggles will carry over from those contests in Boston remains to be seen.
"We haven't accomplished anything yet," Bergeron said. "The last two games have been the way that we wanted to come out and great games, but that being said, we can't get too high and too low in the playoffs, and we've seen that before. It's the same thing here and we are expecting a huge game tomorrow and we want to make sure we're ready."